I freely admit that I don't have a very high tolerance for complaining. Even if the complaints I'm hearing are justified, rational and well-considered (which complaints so rarely are) past a certain point I have to tune them out or I will begin to feel angry.
I think I have chosen a difficult career in this regard. I love them, but teachers are the complaining-est bunch of humans I have ever been around.
Everyone at our school is already under a great deal of stress working to implement a brand new and very challenging curriculum in bilingual classrooms. On top of this, we are going through a school-wide certification in the IB PYP program. What that meant today was we attended a half-day workshop. We will attend the second half of the workshop tomorrow (Saturday) from 8:30 to 6pm.
On top of those two stressors we just found out today that we can add another big one on top of those. The Turkish Ministry of Education is coming to inspect our school next Thursday. On this inspection hinges the continued existence of our school.
And our principal will be out of town for a conference.
Absent leadership, dire scrutiny from in-class ministry observers and practically non-existent weekend rest are a lot of extra stressors to cope with for a staff of teachers already wrestling hard every day with how to implement preposterously complicated units of inquiry (third-graders creating their own system of government and workable tax system, for example).
My fellow staff have every right to complain. The stress is very real. We are all feeling it.
But what I don't hear enough of are the upsides, the silver linings, the saving graces, the positive spin. At times it seems to me as though the downside is the only aspect anyone wants to talk about. And yeah, you blow off some steam in the moment. But what about the next moment? And the next? Don't you just feel downtrodden all over again?
Griping is the easiest thing in the world. I think Americans invented it. But it's ubiquitous. For some people here, it's just about the only form of communication the want to have. If it's not the current state of affairs they're complaining about it's that there's all sorts of problems on the horizon. I think some of them even have it in their head that they're performing some sort of service, making clear to the rest of us (who must be real idiots) in meticulous detail just how messed up things really are.
If you're going to complain to me (express a negative perspective on a subject) can't you also affirm to me (express a positive perspective on a subject) and avoid dragging me down? I'd certainly appreciate it if complaints were paired with affirmations; "This workload is ridiculous, how can they expect us to keep up with any of this, I don't get compensated enough to work so hard. But I do love the challenge of it all, it really keeps me interested to know I'm growing as a professional and I like to know I'm working on the cutting edge of education."
I really don't even care if the affirmation makes any sense in the context of the complaint; "The printer's out of toner again and I've got to print an impossible number of reports by tomorrow, I'm losing my mind! But the black olives on the salad I had for lunch were really firm and tasty."
I don't mind if you dump your woe all over my face as long as when you're done you pass me your hanky. Too often I walk into the staff room and witness two intelligent adults taking turns hosing each other down in massive quantities of woe. My reaction is usually to back quietly out of the room. I know that soon they'll start looking for fresh targets.
For some, it's a sort of meaningless competition.
"I'm so miserable and this job is too hard because of this one thing that happened that I'm blowing completely out of proportion to get a kick from stirring up and then venting my emotions on you."
"Oh yeah? Well, the thing that you're blowing completely out of proportion is somehow slightly inferior to the thing that I'm completely blowing out of proportion. And now, along with the kick I'm getting from venting on you I'm also getting a kick from feeling superior to you."
"You two think you've got problems? I will now obliterate you with my somehow slightly superior thing that I am blowing out of proportion."
What a useless, pointless, ridiculous waste of time and energy. And I see it every day. When I start to feel angry, I have to just walk away. I have learned that expressing the positive, the affirmative, the silver lining short-circuits their conversation, which denies the participants the emotional kick they want. They don't like that one bit.
But they can't say, "You're right. There is an affirmative side, too. But let's keep complaining until we get our buzz." Coming clean about enjoying their complaining renders their complaints meaningless, I suppose. It makes their self-victimization more difficult to escape into if they have to face that they enjoy victimizing themselves. So they have to shout me down or disagree with me until I finally give up and walk away. You can't have a rational discussion with an addict who only sees you as standing in the way of their next fix.
We all complain. But teachers do it more often and with more gusto than any group of people I have ever encountered. If teachers ever get paid enormous sums of money and get all the administrative support they could ever want, I know that among the satisfied and jubilant majority there will be a group of woe-mongers who will secretly hate that their life has improved.
They'll be the ones griping about what a pain it is to keep their expensive jewelry clean, how impossible it is to find a decent maid and how unreasonably expensive it is to gas up their private jet.
I love teaching here. It is fantastically challenging to me in ways I never knew I could be challenged. It is so difficult sometimes that I want to bang my head on the desk in frustration or collapse in exhaustion. And I am growing professionally by leaps and bounds! I am developing teaching skills that are on the leading edge of modern education and I'm thinking about things I've never thought about on a daily basis.
Some days the crap completely hits the fan and some days I'm too tired to even care! But I have both of my legs, both of my arms, and all five of my senses are in perfect working order.
All five of them!!!
I sometimes worry that maybe I'm not doing the best job for my students and sometimes I need more resources than I have and often I think the expectations that my administration puts on me are torturous and unrealistic.
Oh, and I have family and friends who love and care for me and who give me all the support I need and more whenever I need it consistently and constantly. And I'm alive, which is really pretty great and tons better than the alternative.
And I get to hypocritically complain on my blog about how I can't stand complaining.
I'm really quite a lucky guy.